John Rezelman died in Bath, New York on February 10, 2012. You may not have known John or ever heard of him, but if you can think of an elderly gentleman friendly to the small-scale farmer and the artist, one who writes poetry and prose about local history and
agriculture, one who is witty, smart, supportive, and humorous, who is both a family man and a sensitive crusader for environmental health, you might get a glimpse of this friend to the upstate New York community of outdoor enthusiasts. Having learned of John’s passing, I uncap a bottle of Phin & Matt’s Southern Tier brew and look out the window at a long-awaited New York snowfall.
Back in 1986, Michael Czarnecki and I published a small anthology of poetry and prose entitled Susquehannock, A Literary Anthology of the Upper Susquehanna Watershed. We included a John Rezelman poem in that anthology called “Seneca Flour Corn.” I’d like to reprint the piece here, a poem suggesting that if you want to make a difference in your world, perhaps all you need to do is learn about your place of life, consider its histories, get involved with it, and plant a seed.
Seneca Flour Corn
The smoke hung thick in the valleys that year/ When Sullivan’s army burned the Indians’ corn./ Neverless, a little bit survived/ In some damp hollow or some hidden patch./ For without man’s help this maize cannot survive./ It needs man to strip the kernels from the cob,/ Plant them so each will have its space to grow,/ Protect from weeds, animals, insects, birds,/ Harvest it, store it, keeping it always dry/ And never, ever eating up all the seed./ Left all to itself, the corn would surely die.
Forty kernels a friend gave to me/ Of that very self-same kind the Senecas grew/ The sort that they most valued for their meal./ It prospered for me, increasing many fold./ I hold an ear of it in my hand–/ Broad white kernels on a slender cob,/ A thing of beauty as well as living food.
General Sullivan, that grain is living still/ And I have helped it to outlast us both.